Preserve the memory of your hunt with these simple, DIY bird taxidermy instructions that anyone can do in their garage
The tailgate hit the end of the cables and immediately triggered a steady thump thump thump of an excited tail in the dog box. I lifted my Labrador, Jack, out of the pickup and shoved a few shells into the magazine.
Just a few steps later, my worst fears were realized. Jack began having an asthma-like episode that was later diagnosed as laryngeal paralysis. I held him until he calmed down enough to begin our walk, reassuring him that this was going to be a slow-paced, short hunt. In my mind, I knew this was our last chance at bagging a quail together before he was no longer able to hunt. A lump formed in my throat as we crossed the fence. Time and age were against us today.
The tall bluestem waved in the January breeze, almost too thick for our intended quarry, but I knew that a covey had been hanging out on the field edge ahead of us. This edge would make an easy walk for an old dog. Before I let my thoughts of his health consume me, the familiar whir of wings interrupted the silence. An instinctive shot from the Ithaca found its mark and Jack had the bird back to my hand, just as he had done for the past 13 years. His last bobwhite was a gorgeous hen. It was a bird worth mounting, but I hadn’t planned that far ahead, so I gently placed her in my vest.
If you are like most hunters, the main purpose of harvested game is consumption. Thoughts of mounting trophy birds to preserve the memory have always crossed my mind, but this requires advanced planning. Most shot game isn’t kept in a way that is conducive to successful taxidermy; in this case, the quail was a little close when shot, too. Between saving meat for the table and saving money for the next adventure, I had never saved a bird for the taxidermist.
The average working hunter isn’t completely out of luck when it comes to saving a piece of the memory. In fact, turkey hunters have been using an affordable and easy-to-make alternative to a full mounted bird for years. This is where I got my idea of a wing and tail mount to commemorate Jack’s last quail. It is a simple, yet classic, way of displaying a trophy bird using basics supplies from the garage.
Supplies for mounting a wing and tail fan
- Wings and tail fan from the bird
- Cedar or other preferred wood for the mounting plaque
- Plywood or cardboard large enough to fan out and cure the wings and tail
- Small nails or tacks
- Two-part auto body filler
- Disposable plastic cup for mixing
- Small drill bit set
Instructions for making the bird mount
- Cut the wings at the first joint when dressing your bird. This leaves the primary part of the wing feathers and the joint for easy positioning on the finished mount.
- Cut the tail at the “pope’s nose,” leaving just enough skin to create a hinge point that allows the tail to be fanned out like a deck of cards.
- This step is very important: Using a piece of plywood or cardboard and an assortment of small wire nails or tacks, spread the wings out in a realistic, outstretched position. Tack the wings to the board by driving a nail through the joint of each wing. Use the remaining nails between the primary feathers and bones to hold the wings in the spread position. Repeat this step for the tail fan, using as many nails as needed between the feathers, and one nail through the flesh where all feathers are attached.
- Cover the wings and tail with borax. Be sure to work the borax well into the surrounding flesh that is left on the wings. A good dusting of borax across the feathers won’t hurt anything, either. Leave the borax-covered wings and fan in a secure location to dry for at least a month. This removes any moisture and cures the wing and tail to the form in which you positioned them. Borax will also eliminate any insects or bacteria that could cause issues later.
- Cut a plaque for your mount. In my case, the covey flushed near a lone cedar tree. I cut a cedar stump with a diameter about equal to the size of a quail’s body. I took this stump to the miter saw and cut two cross-section slices: one ¼ inch thick and one ½ inch thick. The thin piece will form the back of the plaque and the thicker piece will form the front.
- After a month of drying time, use an air compressor to gently blow off all the excess borax from the feathers. Carefully remove the wings and tail from the board.
- Mix the two-part automotive body filler and apply a dollop to the ¼” wood disk. Press the wings and tail fan into this filler, centering the plaque so it appears to be the body of the bird. Allow this to dry overnight.
- Drill a few holes through the cured filler to allow the next coat to flow into it and sufficiently bond. Then apply the front piece of the plaque by adding another dollop of filler, then pressing the last piece onto the mount to finish.
- Once dry, you can add any hanger you’d like to the back of the mount. A simple hole drilled at an upward angle is enough to allow the mount to be hung from a nail.
When gear, fuel, and time are expensive, bird taxidermy can seem like an unnecessary expense after the hunt. Don’t rule out the idea of using a few basic home items to create your own displays of a memorable hunt or an important milestone for a bird dog or a young hunter in your life. Try it out and give it your own spin; the possibilities are endless.
Kyle is an agronomist from Hiawatha, KS, a generalist hunter, but specifically; upland bird hunter, fur trapper, and fisherman. He enjoys doing anything that keeps him outdoors with his wife Shelby, son Cash, and lab Jack.